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Film Review: "The Lovebirds"

Brad Johnson launches his new film review column, looking at films from the perspective of a writer, with Netflix's "The Lovebirds," starring Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani.

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Logline: When a couple finds themselves pulled into a murder mystery just as their relationship starts to implode, they must journey into the seedy underbelly of New Orleans to clear their names and figure out how they, and their relationship, can survive the night.

Directed by Michael Showalter (The State and The Big Sick) from a screenplay by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall (story by Abrams, Gall, and Martin Gero), the first few minutes of The Lovebirds let you know right off the bat that you aren’t in for your standard rom-com fare.

We first meet Leilani (Issa Rae) and Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) the morning after a one-night stand that quickly moves into a montage of them falling in love. This quick assemblage of romantic greatest-hits scenes glosses over what would be the main plot in other members of the genre.

Jump to four years later and the shine is off the apple. Leilani and Jibran are neck deep in a knock-down, drag-out fight that centers around minutia, like whether or not they’d be able to win “The Amazing Race.” On a drive across town, looks are thrown like daggers and words are said that can’t be unsaid as the couple realizes they’re heading for an imminent breakup. But, before the can officially call it quits, they smash into a criminal bicyclist and find their car commandeered by the police and in hot pursuit. After the cop (Paul Sparks) runs down, and (in the movies most satisfying bit) then repeatedly runs over the victim before running off himself, the couple realize they’re not white enough to survive the police arriving on scene and flee.

Now, like in so many movies before them – most notable Game Night and Date Night – our lovebirds find themselves on the run in a night-long escapade that will force them to rely on each other to clear their names and survive the evening.

What follows is a briskly paced jaunt from one bit to the next as “The Lovebirds” tries to decide what kind of story it really wants to tell. Jumping wildly across genres from rom-com, to murder mystery, to conspiracy thriller, and finally (and most bizarrely) to an Eyes Wide Shut parody, the story feels half-baked and never dives too deeply into any one area.

Luckily, the strong chemistry between its two leads, helps wallpaper over a lot of the problems with the story and keeps you engaged during the film’s brisk 86-minute runtime. Rae and Nanjiani play off of each other wonderfully and, as the credits roll, the main takeaway is that these two need to work together more often. As a showcase for these two rising stars, The Lovebirds is a success, but as a movie, it’s more of a scattershot grouping of scenes than it is a fully-realized plot.

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